20100810

Linux is a time killer

Preface: I have been using Linux since around 1998, when I installed Debian from scratch in my old Pentium II. I am more end-user than power user, but the computer I use most often (my netbook) has Linux in it by default. Also, my office computer is a Linux computer. And I am writing this in my MacBook. Which is not Linux, but at least it is Unix. What comes now is a personal rant, after a fight with my netbook. Probably not completely a Linux fault as an Acer one. But anyway, be warned this is a rant.



Linux is a time waster. It can come in two time-wasting fashion:
  • Good: you find a new command/application and play with it.
  • Bad: you try to configure something (or install a package from scratch).
I have nothing against the good part. I even enjoy it, by learning to use gcal, or a2ps. I even wrote a (guest) post on why I think learning these side tools can be rewarding.

But the bad part... this always gets on my nerves. I don't mean that Windows is better in the bad part... but Mac OS is. Mac OS just works, but they have the best thing to be that way: all Mac computers are Apple controlled. Thus they can test everything and say 'OK'. Every hardware part will work perfectly and smoothly with Mac OS version N.

Linux has to work in almost all strange configurations possible... And this means big hardware fuss. You have a winmodem? You can't use a dial-up connection (that happened in my Pentium II days). More recently, you have an internal SD card reader? You can't hotplug it.

All started with an upgrade from Ubuntu 9.10 to 10.04. I assumed dist-upgrade was a good option, I wanted to upgrade my distribution. Then I learned, and was advised that it was a bad idea... But how could I know it beforehand? It was the first time I had to upgrade, in my office this is automatic, and previously I had so little content that overwriting with a newer version was not a problem. It looked like the best tool for the job. The ~6 hours process began, and finally, ended.

Without keyboard, without trackpad, without USB. I had something similar to a brick, under X11. I could boot in console mode and tinker to solve it. I googled and digged into forums, and after around 2 hours I found some maybe solutions. Tried two (both took a while of editing) and they didn't work at all. Gave up (I remember fighting against X11 back in my pure Debian days, and it not enjoyable) and tried to download the latest Ubuntu to install from a Flash drive. Did you know that Ubuntu no longer gives system boot images you can write in USB flash drives? It is either net-install (but how do you boot it?) or CD. It looks like a good move in these days where netbooks have no CD drive. In case you are interested, you can find a flash drive image here.

This process started around 11 am and ended 11 am the day after. Then add quite a few more hours for installing all programs I use, and configuring a few of them. Luckily, I use fluxbox and emacs where configuration back-up is a dream.

Roughly two days for a system upgrade.

Then, the other day, I had some pictures I wanted to post somewhere. Don't remember exactly, and put my SD card in my right-hand internal reader. Nothing. D'oh! I remembered I had to enable hotplugging when booting, by adding some lines somewhere. Googled for a while, found the solution I used back in my 9.04 days.Which needed writing in a non-existent file. Duh. Ok, look for a solution for Ubuntu 10.04. More googling. Several tries (which mean edit, reboot and try). Nothing, I only got the LH reader working. The right one, which is the easily removable, the LH is an expansion slot, isn't. Just from upgrading from 9.10 to 10.04.

And it took me one other day.

These are just two of my everyday examples, and I guess you could share a few of your own. More if you are a sysadmin, or do something with web servers. Share your story, it will relax you. At least, I feel a little better.

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Written by Ruben Berenguel